Children who survived the shooting rampage that killed 20 first-graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary returned to class Thursday for the first time since the massacre last month.
With their original school in Newtown, Conn. still being treated as a crime scene, the more than 400 students are attending classes at a refurbished school in the neighboring town of Monroe.
Monroe Police Lt. Keith White said attendance on the first day was good, buses were full and children were excited to see each other.
"A lot of them were happy to see their friends they hadn't seen in a while," White said.
Returning students, teachers and administrators were met by a large police presence on a sunny and cold day with temperatures hovering near 10 degrees Several police officers were guarding the entrance to the school, and were checking IDs of parents dropping off children.
"I hugged him a lot longer than normal, until he said, 'Mommy, please,'" said Sarah Caron, parent of a 7-year-old second-grader. "And then he got on the bus, and he was OK."
Still, Newtown Superintendent Janet Robinson said officials were doing their best to make the students feel at ease.
"We will go to our regular schedule," she said. "We will be doing a normal day."
Therapy dogs were also on hand at the school.
"A lot of the kids have sat down and enjoyed a few moments with the dogs," White said.
On Dec. 14, gunman Adam Lanza, 20, killed his mother, then drove to Sandy Hook Elementary, where he forced his way into the Newtown school, and killed 20 children and six educators before taking his own life as authorities closed in.
Besides security, making the school comfortable and welcoming for students has also been a top priority for school officials. Robinson said 80 people worked to get the school ready for Thursday.
Teams of workers, many of them volunteers, prepared the Chalk Hill school and even raised bathroom floors so the smaller elementary school students can reach the toilets. The students' backpacks and other belongings that were left behind following the shooting were taken to the new school to make them feel at home.
Students found the same chairs and desks, when possible. Their classroom walls were painted the same colors and hung with the same pictures. Other details, such as the location of bookshelves and cubby holes, were replicated as much as possible.
"Right now, Chalk Hill has been transformed from a middle school to a very cheerful, nurturing elementary school,” Robinson said.
Former principal Donna Page will lead the school and Robinson called this a “Godsend” to help the transition process.